Chandigarh was always a small town. Never mind its towering stature as the seat of government of two states and its own designation as a Union territory. I would have prefixed small with “sleepy”, had it not been used to death by every travel magazine worth its newsprint to describe more exotic locales north of Chandigarh.
The Chandigarh I grew up in exemplified a social balance much like Noah’s Ark. There were the gun-toting, Corleonesque members of the Punjab Police strutting about in post-Black Thunder glory, there was the massive human population who staffed the state entities and protected the sanctity of the Ashok Stambh, and then there were the rich people, who lived in sprawling mansions in the single-digit sectors. One can, of course, keep adding further subcategories, but those who have lived through the 1980s in Chandigarh would probably find these most memorable.
Strangely enough, all these memories came jogging back on bus No. 25, which is probably the lifeline of the Punjabi community living on the eastern frontier of London in Ilford, connecting them to the heart of Holborn. A family of four adults and two children sitting at an obtuse angle to me provided probably the most succinct description of how Chandigarh has moved on from the time I used to live there. Post-summer vacations, we would worship the fellow who had vacationed with his parents in London, living with some distant relatives, and had come back with Toblerones, which to us were a sureshot sign of accelerated upward mobility. This family on the bus was doing much the same, except they did not reside in the sprawling Corbusierian bungalows on the banks of Lake Sukhna. They came from a far-reaching suburb of Zirakpur which, from what I could eavesdrop on, had developed into quite a posh locality under the glare of the local real estate boom.
From all the accounts of the growing middle class in various parts of India, prosperity has indeed trickled down, although not at a particularly swift pace. So, when I am confronted with columnists who spout that development in India is not socially or geographically inclusive, I am not entirely convinced. Every argument in the book should be marshalled for accelerating the pace of growth to reach the last mile sooner, but to say that the present model of development is creating social barriers to progress for people left out of it seems misconceived at best and motivated at worst.
When I read columns written by Indian-origin authors in the Western press based on journeys to a few parts of India for even fewer days, and their attempt to develop a view on India’s growth story on the basis of that fleeting experience, it strikes me as a leopard trying to change its spots.
There is now a significant market for exaggerating the myriad tribulations facing India, but seldom do I notice much written about the exponential progress that has been made, which has provided income and growth opportunities to several layers of the society that were earlier all but tucked away from public glare.
Development priorities need bullish projections and bullish projections need market confidence. By consistently underplaying the progress made thus far, we will only hamper market confidence. Slowly emerging from the debris of the financial mass destruction is the realization that the centre of business would have to shift from saturated Western markets to countries where real assets could be capitalized upon rather than mere circulation of paper money. In such circumstances, I believe every effort must be made to highlight the progress India has made and shun doomsayers whose stake in the India story is nothing beyond a newspaper column.
Saionton Basu is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. Comment at email@example.com